Academic journal article Hecate

The Academy as Kitchen - A Subversive Perspective on the (Prehistoric) Paradigm of 'Women-in-the-Kitchen'

Academic journal article Hecate

The Academy as Kitchen - A Subversive Perspective on the (Prehistoric) Paradigm of 'Women-in-the-Kitchen'

Article excerpt

1. The kitchen as reference point

I started in the academy in 1982 and since 1996 have been largely in 'management' positions in universities. I have developed an academic career along the way to the position I hold now, as one of the few women law Deans in Australia, a post I have been in for five years. I have also just accepted appointment for a further term of five years.

There are two cookbooks that I remember as universals: the Commonsense Cookery Book (published in 1943 by the NSW Public School Cookery Teachers Association) and the mid-Victorian classic, Mrs Beeton's Cookery Book (and her Book of Household Management). They were books of simple wisdom with strategies for survival and success. This paper is my 'cookbook' that pays homage to them both.1

My 'recipes' are written from the perspective of women in the academy, but are not only for consumption by women (although written principally with women in mind); they also include bits, 'morsels', of my story - as all good recipes and principles of household management do. They represent my perspective on developing as an academic.2 Academia is really no different from a kitchen; and the secret to personal development lies in understanding the social, gender and management dynamics that underpin human behaviour 'in the kitchen'. And personal development enables you to get to the position where you can affect the rules: the shape, size and management of the kitchen. Affecting the rules; affecting the way in which the rules work in the lives of others; affecting the kitchen is the goal.

Where some have sought to find 'an ethnography of the disciplines',3 this paper works through the metaphor of 'gastronomy'. I use the soufflé as a metaphor for life. It is about balance, perspective, timing - all the elements of a good soufflé. If you choose the ingredients well and give the recipe and the cooking all the attention that is needed then it will be fabulous. If you don't, it will flop. It may still taste alright, but one is a success, the other a failure.

This is a paper drawn from experience. It sits within the culture of the legal academy and works within the persona of the professional identity of legal academics from the point of view of women. It plays with the challenges of seeking advancement, both as an individual pursuit and a collective responsibility, through the device of the feminine - the 'Mrs Beeton' approach to defining and claiming a space for academic advancement - that recognizes the singular, some would say aggressive (and masculine) dynamic of personal development,4 but in a context of the quintessentially communal (feminine) environment and responsibility of'the kitchen'.

This paper uses a playful rhetoric to present a serious message; and to provide some sensible advice to providing an appropriate space for 'getting on in the academy'. It is presented as a mother to her daughters; as my mother did, by example. It is neither apologetic nor grim; but encourages each to take responsibility for learning to cook; and, in turn, to write her recipes and pass them on in the tradition of mothers and daughters over many generations.

2. Secrets of the kitchen

(a) Apron principle

In the kitchen you need to wear an apron. It is functional; but it is also a uniform. It is full of signs.5 It is political.6 The academic kitchen is not as prescriptive with respect to aprons, but both the function and the semiology are similar. Dressing in the right kind of apron communicates certain messages: credibility and authority. And it matters more for women than for men.7 Why? Because by harnessing the stereotypical form of apron it serves the attainment of 'neutrality'.8 It is not about making women not gendered, it is about finding the way in which our value is maximised, and for a purpose: to change the kitchen.

Dressing in the apron for the kitchen indicates that you are the cook. Dressing in the professional uniform indicates that you are a professional. …

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